Less finite realms of creativity
Goals drive practically everything. From business to education and then from education to the personal! We live to accomplish something that is finite, tangible and achievable. Right? Virtually every school and every business class and every sporting team and every self-help book will posit goals. So, we all have goals if we wish to achieve anything. We must visualize them. They must be measurable. Finite! So where do goals fit with direction, mission, life path, art and experience?
Where do they fit within less finite realms of creativity? Journey? Seeking of the indivisible? The creation of something new? The alchemy of discovering and surprise? Might it simply be enough to have a sense of direction? A strong feeling of being on a path leading somewhere? Perhaps somewhere beyond definition?
Therefore, we do well to consider the direction of our work as being more important than any goals we might construct! So, let us consider an approach that taps into a surrealist phenomenology of theatre.
Theatre as an alchemy of discovery and surprise; a creator of impossible actions
Theatre operates as a creator of impossible actions; a totality of illogical and contradictory associations. It is a constant dream through which cultural subconscious tendencies and gravitations swirl like Salvador Dali paintings into new relationships between creator and spectator. Theatrical presentation and creation is an interaction. That relationship can never be rational nor can it be a succinct and finite entity. No matter how defined the goals of a theatre presentation might be, they can never be precisely achieved.
We cannot be sure of even the Stanislavski obsession with Objectives and Actions (ie. strategies to achieve an objective) as seen in characters being portrayed in plays. Essentially, nothing is finite! Nothing is as it seems. Great actors know this as they nuance their portrayals to allow for ambiguity, doubt and uncertainty.
Meaning in theatre is misleading. There is no one meaning for any theatrical presentation. No two spectators will confer the same meaning to any theatrical presentation. There will always be at least slight nuances of meaning that are different. This is also reflected in the multitudinous elements that comprise a theatre performance. Shape, movement, light and shade, variations in vocal qualities, physical appearance of actors, dynamics of the performance space and anything else you can think of will contribute to these variations in what an audience perceives even before their own individual reference points are considered.
While a play text may be assessed as having a particular intent, the moment of performance obliterates it. The actor/spectator relationship negotiates infinite permutations of meaning. Simply interviewing people after a performance may test this principle! This brings us to Antonin Artaud.
Tendency and gravitation vs absolutism
Students over simplify Artaud. Drama courses still include Artaud in the curriculum. However, one can never DO Artaud. His life and ideas are far too complex. As a result, all we can do is illustrate the notions of Gravitation and Tendency as opposed to Absolutism. So in many ways, the focus on Artaud’s “theatre of cruelty” is misleading and does Artaud an injustice. Artaud causes us to think in tendencies and gravitations rather than linear absolutes. To set goals and achieve goals in Artaud’s world is to accept imagery, language and causality as simple suggestions that can shake up the logical and seemingly absolute universe. This is a not a direct political function; rather it is a deeply personal and idiosyncratic challenge.
The Value of Artaud in thinking about and approaching theatre
A very close friend told me to give up Artaud. Don’t waste your time. She worked in theatre most of her life and is still an excellent teacher at University level. I have puzzled on this thought for years. Now, I see why I still find inspiration in Artaud and almost break into tears every time I read his story. It is essentially my loathing of absolutism. Its close relative is fundamentalism. Another is dogmatism and authoritarianism. In reading Artaud’s work and grappling with his concepts, one can find value in competing dialectics. One can experience the relationship between powerful forces and strong influences; some of which are opposed to one’s own predilections. It is the other side of the coin from Brecht’s “alienation”.
Artaud provides us the shocks to our smugness and sense of righteous complacency. He provides us with the art and theatre that can have the power to have us killed by the Absolutist radicals with their tunnel-visioned certainties. The ideas of gravitation defy and subvert nearly all the basic underlying thoughts and procedures of our current education and business training. While Artaud is not the architect of “gravitation”, his artistic precepts certainly link and embrace such notions. His work is a kind of absurdist alchemy; a quixotic launch at the windmills of cultural, academic and artistic bullshit! and destined to fail, perhaps heroically within a universe of absolute reductionist certainty!
The beauty of failure and phenomenology of theatre
I just saw a dreadful production of “Saturday Night Fever” that had audiences in the thousands cheering and dancing in adulating enthrall! The film back in 1978 was an inspiration for me. I am producing it next next. Yet I felt a kind of sickness as I watched such a deadly and dull rendition of a beautiful soul. It was a production that played to the absolute dollar and the lowest common denominator. The dancing was dull and routine; the acting was borderline embarrassing; the staging was incompetent at times (eg. where Marcia Hines was wandering around masking much of the stage and looking totally uncertain); the acting might have suited Alladin or some other lightweight production … but for the gritty and desperate scenes from the story? NO WAY!
In thinking about goals for my own production of this work, I feel the need to trust the gravity of its genesis; the remembrance of those young kids I saw performing in a Departments store at Christmas in the late 1950s in Brisbane … The Bee Gees! The iconic power of the film and its creators and stories. There is a deep notion of a phenomenological and less rational connection with the content of this work; a kind of gravitation to nebulous ideas and memories and experiences. It is in trusting all of this that I feel Artaud can be credited. And none of this has anything to do with a “theatre of cruelty”; rather it has everything to do with an alchemy of discovery in a universe of competing gravities.